Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s invite for an all-party meeting on the caste census demand has plunged his ally BJP into an ocean of awkward.
The meeting has been tentatively scheduled on Friday, Nitish Kumar said yesterday.
Nitish Kumar’s Deputy Tarkishor Prasad of the BJP told reporters that “a guidance” has been sought from the party leadership in Delhi over the Chief Minister’s invite. In private, BJP leaders say Nitish Kumar has once again “laid a trap” and exposed the fault lines within the alliance and the party over the caste census.
Nitish Kumar’s former Deputy and senior BJP leader, Sushil Modi, says the party never opposed a caste census and had even backed the resolution passed in the Bihar assembly. He also points out that state Minister Janak Ram of the BJP accompanied the all-party delegation led by Nitish Kumar, which met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year.
However, the central BJP has always opposed a caste-based census as divisive. On Friday, PM Modi, addressing a BJP meet, had also warned against parties “trying to divide” the society in the name of caste or regionalism.
BJP leaders feel hemmed in by Nitish Kumar’s comments on planning a road map for a caste census. “Discussing it and then sending it to the Cabinet means it is about to take shape,” said a leader.
Nitish Kumar had, sensing the BJP’s discomfiture, virtually put the tricky subject in cold storage.
BJP leaders in Bihar are in a fix. They say it is another matter to demand and support the move as the party did during the UPA era or in Orissa or Karnataka. “But when you are part of the exercise as the ruling coalition, how can you reject it? Especially since a similar demand has been made either before the Centre or in other states like UP, where the Samajwadi party is making the demand consistently,” a Bihar leader said.
While leaders of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JDU) admit it’s not easy for the BJP to take a quantum leap on the caste census row, given the party’s firm stand, also articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they believe the issue is important enough to risk the alliance.
The RJD has alleged that the latest CBI raids on their leader Lalu Yadav and his family – on new corruption charges – are linked to the BJP’s resentment over Nitish Kumar warming up to Tejashwi Yadav on a caste census. “The raids were obviously meant as a warning to Nitish Kumar,” said Shivanand Tiwari, National spokesperson, RJD, denying any wrongdoing by the Yadavs.